Sustainability Science

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 203–218 | Cite as

Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development

  • Arnim WiekEmail author
  • Lauren Withycombe
  • Charles L. Redman
Review Article


The emerging academic field focused on sustainability has been engaged in a rich and converging debate to define what key competencies are considered critical for graduating students to possess. For more than a decade, sustainability courses have been developed and taught in higher education, yet comprehensive academic programs in sustainability, on the undergraduate and graduate level, have emerged only over the last few years. Considering this recent institutional momentum, the time is seemingly right to synthesize the discussion about key competencies in sustainability in order to support these relatively young academic programs in shaping their profiles and achieving their ambitious missions. This article presents the results of a broad literature review. The review identifies the relevant literature on key competencies in sustainability; synthesizes the substantive contributions in a coherent framework of sustainability research and problem-solving competence; and addresses critical gaps in the conceptualization of key competencies in sustainability. Insights from this study lay the groundwork for institutional advancements in designing and revising academic programs; teaching and learning evaluations; as well as hiring and training faculty and staff.


Education for sustainable development Curriculum development Sustainability expertise Sustainability professional Transformative learning 



The authors would like to thank Beth Mercer-Taylor (University of Minnesota), Anne Kapucinski (Dartmouth College), and Kathleen Lambert (Dartmouth College) for helpful comments on our research. We would like to thank Katja Brundiers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article (Arizona State University) and Robert Kutter (Arizona State University) for editorial support.


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Copyright information

© Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science, United Nations University, and Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arnim Wiek
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lauren Withycombe
    • 1
  • Charles L. Redman
    • 1
  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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